New Potato Deal in Peru Signposts Global Drive to Open Up Food Genebanks to Indigenous Peoples

News, 18 January 2005

London, January 18, 2005 -– The Peruvian potato is helping to drive forward global policy thinking about how to return control over homegrown agricultural resources to indigenous populations.

A new agreement, the first of its kind in the world, means that Andean communities can unlock the potato genebank and repatriate biological diversity to farming communities and the natural environment for local and global benefit. The initiative will be conducted in a conservation "potato park" in southern Peru where indigenous peoples can access genetic resources and have a greater say in their management.

Though excluded and often oppressed today, indigenous peoples are the traditional custodians of biodiversity and this agreement restores these rights whilst recognising that "the conservation, sustainable use and development of maximum agrobiodiversity is of vital importance in order to improve the nutrition, health and other needs of the growing global population."

The Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), a Cusco-based civil society group led by indigenous peoples, helped broker the ground-breaking agreement with the International Potato Centre, one of 15 Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research centres responsible for the world's largest agrobiodiversity genebank collections.

The new deal is unique because it will "ensure that genetic resources and knowledge remain under the custody of local communities and do not become subject to intellectual property rights in any form". This bucks the trend of privatising genetic resources and indigenous knowledge which has seen seed genebanks swallowed up by unaccountable research bodies and corporations, threatening local livelihoods and cultural ways of life.

Alejandro Argumedo, Associate Director of ANDES, said: "Biological diversity is best rooted in its natural environment and managed by indigenous peoples who know it best and can use it for everyone's benefit. The new agreement is a major breakthrough that should have policy implications worldwide for ensuring culturally-appropriate and sustainable development.

"This pioneering agreement opens the way for a greater complementarity between genebank and field-based conservation. It is not a blueprint, but it does show a way forward and proves that solutions can be found if the political will exists."

Policy analysts and civil society campaigners believe the new agreement marks a turning point and provides a good practice model that can inform similar initiatives across the globe. They are calling for greater action at crucial international meetings this year in Bangkok and Geneva, but warn that potential progress is being undermined by a lack of political and financial commitment from the international community, including the UK, to help build the capacity of civil society groups to negotiate effectively at a local and national level.

The London-based International Institute for Environment and Development and the government of the Netherlands have been working with and providing support to ANDES for four years.

Dr Michel Pimbert, Director of the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods Program at IIED, said: "Civil society groups, particularly those led by indigenous peoples, should not be dictated to, but they do need greater support from the rich countries. Ground-breaking agreements, like this example in Peru, require negotiation with all parties on an equal footing, which means boosting the capacity of local indigenous communities to argue their case for access to the genetic resources they helped develop in the first place."

The new agreement gives practical meaning to the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It also reflects the ideals of the UN Millennium Development Goals to ensure sustainable and culturally-appropriate development of local and indigenous communities.

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